CHRIS HUHNE MP
Chris took up the post in March 2006 and is campaigning for policies which will protect the environment for future generations.
THE LIBERAL DEMOCRAT PARTY
The Liberal Democrats, often shortened to Lib Dems, are a liberal political party in the United Kingdom. The party was formed in 1988 by the merger of the Liberal Party and the short lived Social Democratic Party; the two parties had already been in an alliance for some years prior to this.
The Lib Dems are the third-largest party in the UK Parliament, behind Labour and the Conservatives, with 63 Members of Parliament - 62 elected at the general election of 2005, and one from the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election. In the Scottish Parliament, they form a coalition Scottish Executive with Labour, where the Lib Dems supply the Deputy First Minister, currently Nicol Stephen. The party is led by Sir Menzies Campbell, who was elected leader in March 2006 (see Liberal Democrats leadership election, 2006 for more information). Prior to this appointment he was the acting leader of the party.
Menzies (Ming) Campbell
The Liberal Democrats claim they do not easily fit into the "left-right" political spectrum. However, most political observers believe that the party has moved to the left since the war in Iraq, taking up 'Old Labour' issues such as lower subsidies on high earners, higher levels of government spending and extended enfranchisement (to 16-year-olds and, controversially, the imprisoned). Generally promoting politically and socially liberal policies, the Liberal Democrats describe themselves as being concerned with the use of power in British and international society. They are also wary of the power of the state over individuals, and as a principle seek to minimise state intervention in personal affairs. Because of this, the party eventually opposed British participation in the war in Iraq (athough have supported increases in troop deployment since), and are considered the most pro-European party in British politics.
Economically, it is not a party founded on economic class interest, but it does espouse some degree of economic liberal doctrine. However, unlike some liberal parties in other countries, it does not place economic liberalisation at the front of its policy objectives. Instead the party has historically combined a strong commitment to social justice, social provision and the welfare state with a strong belief in economic freedom and competitive markets wherever possible, particularly when interference is seen as an example of the "nanny state", which many liberal MPs speak of with disgust.
In the 2006 leadership election, the party had three individuals, regarded as being representative of three wings of the party, standing for election.
Inside Liberal Democrats there exists a market liberal wing. In 2005, after the general elections, the then-leader of the party, Charles Kennedy, promised a change of Liberal Democrat policy and chose in his Shadow Cabinet several MPs who had contributed to the Orange Book, which suggested a more market liberal direction for various areas of policy. Much of the Orange Book was a restatement of existing party policy, but some more dissenting chapters were intended to spark internal policy debate along market liberal lines; many commentators interpreted this as a swing to the right. This group has support with many of the party donors and in the press, as well as among many of the non-urban elected officials of the party.
The second wing of the party, with strong support in the metropolitan MPs and with many party activists, is more in line with modern liberalism of Keynesian economic theory, active government in support of free markets. They are centered around Simon Hughes who finished third in the 2006 leadership contest.
The third broad wing of the party consists of the core of the party apparatus, and many of the long standing party leaders. Committed neither to "Orange Book" reforms, nor to Hughes' more active government, they are more concerned with reducing the size of the national government and protecting individual liberties, while more equitably distributing the tax burden.
According to accounts filed with the Electoral Commission for the year ending 31 December 2004, the party had 72,721 members, and had a budget of about £3,700,000.  4,300 of these members are from Scotland 
History of the Liberal Democrats
The Liberal Democrats are descended from the Liberal Party which dominated British politics for much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Having declined to third party status after the rise of the Labour Party in 1922, the Liberals found themselves challenged for their place as the centrist party of British politics in the 1980s, when in 1981, with the Labour Party moving to the left, a group of moderate Labour MPs broke away and established the Social Democratic Party (SDP), claiming to preserve previous Labour Party traditions. The SDP and the Liberals soon realised that there was no place for two centrist political parties, and entered into an alliance so that they would not stand against each other in elections. The two parties drew up their own policies and had different emphases, but produced a joint manifesto for the 1983 and 1987 General Elections. Initially the Alliance was led by David Steel (Liberal) and Roy Jenkins (SDP), and later by Steel and David Owen (SDP).
In 1987, following disappointing results in that year's general election, Steel proposed a merger of the two parties. Although opposed by David Owen, it was supported by a majority of members of each and the two parties formally merged in 1988, with David Steel and Robert Maclennan (who had become SDP leader in August 1987) as interim joint leaders. At the time of the merger, in 1988, the party took the name Social and Liberal Democrats (SLD). After briefly shortening its name to The Democrats, it changed to the current name of Liberal Democrats in October 1989, which is now frequently shortened to "Lib Dems".
The minority of the SDP who rejected the merger remained under David Owen's leadership. Some Liberals disliked the direction the party was going in after Paddy Ashdown's election as leader and created a new party which revived the name "Liberal Party".
Simon Hughes, Lib Dem president
The former Liberal MP Ashdown became leader of the party in 1988, and under his leadership the party's support grew steadily. Although the Lib Dems did not immediately manage to repeat the 20%+ shares of national vote which the SDP/Liberal alliance had achieved in the 1980s, they did manage to more than double their representation in Parliament at the 1997 General Election to 46 seats, and become a major force in local government throughout the decade.
Following Tony Blair's election as leader of the Labour Party in 1994, Ashdown controversially pursued a policy of cooperation between the two parties (with the two leaders even allegedly agreeing to form a coalition government). However this Lib-Lab Pact failed to materialise when it became apparent to the Liberal Democrats that Labour would not introduce proportional representation and other key Liberal Democrat demands. Labour's massive majority after the 1997 general election also meant that Blair lost interest in pursuing the issue, and some senior Labour politicians (e.g. John Prescott) were strongly opposed to a coalition.
Ashdown retired as leader in 1999 and Charles Kennedy was elected as his replacement. Kennedy was originally the only SDP MP who fully supported the merger. The party improved on their 1997 results at the 2001 general election, winning more seats and increasing their share of the vote.
During Labour's second term, the Liberal Democrats won support due to their opposition to the war on Iraq, and Charles Kennedy expressed his intention for his party to replace the Conservatives as the main opposition. The party won seats from Labour in by-elections in Brent East in 2003 and Leicester South in 2004, and narrowly missed taking others in Birmingham Hodge Hill and Hartlepool.
However the Liberal Democrats are currently engaged in a debate on their future national direction. The party's increased support in recent years has come from both former Labour and former Conservative voters, due to the Lib Dems' positions on issues that unite the Labour left with liberal Conservatives: civil liberties, electoral reform, the War in Iraq and matters of trust and open government. However, whilst these two groups of potential supporters might agree with the party on these 'Lib Dem issues' (and disagree with the perceived authoritarianism of the government and main opposition), matters of economic policy present an obvious gap between the two groups that the party are still debating how and whether to bridge.
At the 2005 general election, the Liberal Democrats gained their highest share of the vote since the days of the SDP-Liberal Alliance, and got 62 seats (their highest since 1923). However, many had anticipated that this election would prove to be the Lib Dem's great breakthrough at Westminster, with some party activists even hoping to reach 100 MPs. From this perspective, 2005 could be considered a wasted opportunity for the Liberal Democrats, although many commentators point to the unfairness of an electoral system that lets the party get around one-quarter of the total votes but only one-tenth of the parliamentary seats.
One of the more interesting trends observed at the election was the Lib Dems replacing the Conservatives as Labour's main opponents in many urban areas. Many of the party's gains came in previously Labour-held urban constituencies (e.g. Manchester Withington, Cardiff Central, Birmingham Yardley), and the party also notably achieved over 100 second-place finishes behind Labour candidates. The long-term implications of this trend in British politics could be profound, since the British electoral system makes it nearly impossible for the Conservatives to return a government without winning some city seats (such as the now Lib Dem Bristol West constituency, which the Conservatives held until 1997, but where they finished third last time).
However, the Conservative's choice of David Cameron as leader in late 2005, along with continued speculation about Gordon Brown's imminent transition to the Labour leadership, led some senior Lib Dems to question whether Charles Kennedy was capable of dealing with the future challenges facing the party. In a personal statement on 5 January 2006 Charles Kennedy admitted to a long personal battle with alcoholism, and announced a leadership election. Despite initially planning to stand as a candidate, Kennedy soon decided to withdraw from the election and Sir Menzies Campbell took over as acting leader. Sir Menzies stood in and subsequently won the leadership contest, defeating rivals Chris Huhne and Simon Hughes.
Under Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrats have performed well, winning the Dunfermline and West Fife seat from Labour in a byelection in February 2006. This was viewed as a particular blow for Gordon Brown, who lives in the constituency and represents the adjacent seat, and featured prominently in Labour's bylection campaign. Some polls have also shown that the Lib Dems under Campbell have gained support at Labour's expense, with the Conservative's poll-ratings largely unchanged despite the Cameron effect.
In post-war United Kingdom general elections they have emerged as the third most popular party behind Labour and the Conservatives. In recent elections, the Liberal Democrats (or their precursor Alliance) have gained between 15% and 25% of the national vote.
The British first past the post electoral system does not reward parties whose vote is evenly divided across the nation with many seats in Parliament, and the Liberal Democrats and their forerunners have suffered in particular. This was especially true in 1983 and 1987 when their popular electoral support was greatest; their increase in the number of seats in 1997 and 2001 was largely due to the weakness of the Conservative Party in the later elections.
The Liberal Democrats have generally performed better in local elections, and are a more significant force in local government, with 27 councils under Liberal Democrat majority control, and Lib Dems in joint control of many others. They have generally performed more poorly in elections to the European Parliament: for example in elections on 10 June 2004, the LibDem national share of the vote was 29% (giving them second place, ahead of Labour) in the local elections that day but only 15% in the simultaneous European elections (putting them in fourth place behind the United Kingdom Independence Party).
They have been coalition partners with Labour in the Scottish Parliament since its re-establishment in 1999, and were also in coalition with Labour in the National Assembly for Wales from 1999 to 2003.
The Liberal Democrats describe their ideology as giving "power to the people". They state they are against the undemocratic concentration of power in unaccountable bodies. They propose decentralisation of power, out of Westminster and into the hands of the people. They would also create a system of tiered government structures to make decisions at what they see as the right level, including regional assemblies, the European Union, and international organisations.
In keeping with the principle of decentralisation of power, the Liberal Democrats are keen protectors of civil liberties and oppose intervention of the state in personal affairs. For this reason, they have been popular amongst gay rights campaigners and campaigners for the decriminalisation of recreational drugs. However, a YouGov poll shows support for the Lib Dems fell  after the Mark Oaten affair.
Their opponents point to their support for the European Convention on Human Rights, even when its theories on separation of powers leads to more power being given to judges and regulatory bodies rather than elected politicians. They point to the Lib Dem desire for local decision making, and their complaints that different decisions in different locations can lead to a "postcode lottery" in the provision of public services. They also express surprise that the Lib Dems are so supportive of the European Union, even when that results in decisions being taken at a higher rather than a lower level. They are also criticised for not calling for reform of the European parliament despite the fact that different countries are not represented equally, which contradicts their ideology of 'giving power to the people'.
Left wing or right wing?
Since the governments of Herbert Henry Asquith and David Lloyd George the Liberal Democrats and their precursor Liberal party have been seen as the centrist party of British politics. However, with Tony Blair's repositioning of Labour to the centre right whilst the Lib Dems have defined themselves as a centre or even explicitly centre left party, they are now effectively the most left-wing of the United Kingdom's three main parties. Lib Dems opposed the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, although they were the strongest advocates of the Kosovo War and before that, intervention in Bosnia. They favour a higher top rate of tax, but have also advocated 'pro-market' policies such as post office privatization and banning strikes in emergency services.
Some claim that attempting to place the Liberal Democrats within the 'left wing'-'right wing' model does not accurately represent their ideology. For example, when Lib Dems oppose the power of the trade unions, they are seen as right wing. When they oppose the power of the corporations, they are seen as left wing. In fact their actual 'position' in both instances is an opposition to unaccountable power - whether it be left wing or right wing.
Others argue that this is consistent with both twentieth and twenty first century British politics, which is in turn an example of the traditional left-right spectrum of political analysis. According to this view, liberalism or political centrism is consistent with a left-right analysis of politics. Thus when the Lib Dems oppose the trade unions, they do so from the centre of the political spectrum with the trade unions being to the left of them. When the Lib Dems oppose the power of the large corporations, they still do this from the centre of the political spectrum with the difference being that the corporations are to the right of them.
Left of Labour?
The shift in the political direction of Labour was initiated in the 1980s but accelerated in response to the party's fourth consecutive election defeat in 1992. Since the election of Tony Blair, the New Labour hierarchy have deliberately courted Conservative voters and even Conservative politicians on the basis that if they take the centre ground from the other parties, they gain power. In part they are able to do this because their own voters are considered to have nowhere realistic to the left of Labour to turn. Thus in recent years the Lib Dems have tried to accommodate these people to a degree by adopting or, at least, pushing to the fore, more social liberal policies. This approach has been successful to a degree as, for example, the celebrity "Marxist" Tariq Ali implored Londoners to vote Lib Dem before the 2005 general election over the Iraq war.
In September 2005, however, there was a discussion at the Lib Dems conference as to whether the social liberal ideals have taken them as far as they can go, and whether they should now move back to the right in order to court Conservative voters. (This could involve abolishing policies such as a 50% tax rate for those who earn over £100,000 which have been used by the Conservative supporting press to paint the party as 'left wing' and as such, risks votes in Lib Dem / Conservative marginals). Proponents argue that left wing policies could see the Lib Dems losing marginal seats to the Conservatives - seats which are vital if the Lib Dems wish to become the new 'official' opposition to any future Labour government. Opponents argue that the Lib Dems can unite the anti-Conservative vote in such marginals, and moving to the right risks losing other marginals in urban areas as well as to the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru. They claim also that any move to the right could harm the Lib Dems in local elections, especially with the recent notable successes of the Greens; they also argue that a move to the right would not just lose the party many votes but could further disenfranchise voters and could lead to turnout at the next general election falling to 50% or below.
The Liberal Democrats' constitution speaks of "a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity. We champion the freedom, dignity and well-being of individuals". To this end:
The most well-known Liberal Democrat policy for most of the 1990s was to increase the basic rate of income tax by one percent to fund public services (especially education). This proposal was recently abandoned after Tony Blair's Labour government increased national insurance contributions by the same amount, a policy with much the same effect. Their current fiscal policies aim at increasing the top rate of income tax by 10 percent to 50% for those earning over £100,000 to fund their increased public spending plans, and to replace Council Tax with local income taxes. In 2003 the Liberal Democrats started to make their long-held pledge to abolish Council Tax a centrepiece of their campaign.
In relation to the 2003 Iraq war, the Liberal Democrats opposed UK participation prior to the conflict, but stated that they would support UK forces that had been ordered to fight while it was taking place. After the initial military action was completed, they renewed their political opposition.
The period after 2001 saw an internal discussion about the right policies for the party on economics and public spending, with some party members advocating that the party position itself as a defender of the traditional welfare state in order to gain support from those who had previously voted Labour. Others, most notably Mark Oaten, advocated a policy of smaller government and laissez-faire (the "Orange Book" published in 2004 was an example of this wing of the Liberal discussion). The party announced its policy of abolishing the Department for Trade and Industry in 2004.
Current party policies can be found on the party website:
The Liberal Democrats are a member party of the Liberal International and the European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party and their 12 MEPs form part of the ALDE group in the European Parliament.
Unlike the other main political parties in the United Kingdom, the Lib Dems have always strongly advocated Proportional Representation. This has always been a cornerstone of the Party's policies, and on many occasions has been cited as a key requirement of any Lib Dem involvement in a coalition government. Several deals have been struck with Labour and Conservative leaders in the past, promising Liberal and Lib Dem support in return for a commitment to consider the introduction of PR, but the two major parties have always found it more advantageous to stick with first-past-the-post.
Both the Liberal Democrats and its Liberal and SDP predecessors have suffered under the current first past the post voting system. This is because they have maintained a substantial part of the popular vote, whilst being unable to focus that support in specific constituencies. This has been less of a problem in the 2001 and 2005 general elections, with the party focusing its resources on key winnable constituencies. Many credit this to the party's chief election strategist Lord Rennard.
There is currently a debate within the party as to whether it should remain such a high profile issue. This debate aside, it is likely that the Lib Dems will only ever see power if a PR voting system is brought in.
CHRIS HUHNE MP
Chris took up the post in March 2006 and is campaigning for policies which will protect the environment for future generations.
Of the big three parties, the Lib Dems are on the face of it promising a concentrated assault on green issues. It is unfortunate that the party with the best published policies concerning climate chaos, have the least chance of being elected. I'm not being nasty when saying this, just being a realist.
In fact, although many thinking people are voting Liberal these days, more are in love with the petrol economy and don#t want to, or cannot afford to rock the boat. Yet we are falling well behind with the targets we agreed during the Kyoto and other Agenda 21 talks.
Nelson Kruschandl says : "It's Time for Change"
Not that we are the worst country by any means, but when talk goes to starting up another Nuclear drive, it is clear the politicians, in this case Tony Balir, are desperate. The worst offender of all is the Bush administrations and its love affair with oil. Unfortunately, I'm not a politician, I'm an engineer - otherwise I'd be campaigning. But who would have a chap in their party, when he's likely to support unpopular party policies. Please see the section below taken directly from the Lib Dem website.
Climate change is a major threat to our planet - and urgent action is needed. Liberal Democrats will lead by example by ensuring that Britain achieves its Kyoto targets well before the deadline. We will tackle traffic pollution by getting more people onto public transport. We will ensure that much more of the UK's electricity comes from safe and renewable sources.
Lib Dem Six-Point 'Dossier of Shame' on Labour's record on tackling climate change since the Kyoto Protocol came into force on 16th February 2006
Liberal Democrats will:
Reducing the Demand for Energy
Half the energy currently used in the UK is wasted, and could be saved by using it more efficiently, in homes, businesses and transport. Mandatory standards and labels for buildings, machinery, vehicles and appliances will encourage householders and businesses to cut energy use.
Giving Incentives To Reduce Carbon Emissions
Transport and the Environment
A taste for adventure capitalists
Solar Cola - a healthier alternative
This website is Copyright © 1999 & 2006 NJK. The bird logo and name Solar Navigator are trademarks. All rights reserved. All other trademarks are hereby acknowledged. Max Energy Limited is an educational charity.